By Sarah N. Lynch and Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - A White House attorney is a leading candidate to become the top lawyer for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to people familiar with the matter.
Anne Small, a special assistant and associate counsel to President Barack Obama, is among SEC Chair Mary Jo White's top picks for the position of general counsel, these people said. They spoke anonymously because the hiring process is not public.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. SEC spokesman John Nester declined comment. It is not clear when a final decision will be made.
Small is not a stranger to the SEC. In March 2011, she was tapped as the agency's deputy general counsel for litigation and adjudication, but left the position six months later for the White House job.
The general counsel's office serves as the main lawyer for the agency itself, handling everything from enforcement policy decisions to defending the SEC when it is sued, to dealing with employment issues.
Before working at the SEC, Small was a partner in the New York office of WilmerHale, a law firm that employs a large contingent of SEC alumni.
She also served as a law clerk for Judge Guido Calabresi on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court
An announcement about a new general counsel would be the second major personnel decision from White, who took over as head of the agency earlier this month.
On Monday, she appointed George Canellos and Andrew Ceresney, two attorneys with whom she previously worked, to serve as co-directors of the SEC's enforcement division.
Just before Obama nominated White to the SEC chairmanship, then-SEC Chairman Elisse Walter named Geoffrey Aronow in early January as the agency's new general counsel.
At the time of the announcement, some had assumed Walter would be in the position for about a year.
White's appointment came just a few weeks later. Typically, most heads of federal agencies prefer to install their own general counsel.
Aronow came from Bingham McCutchen LLP, and had previously also served as director of enforcement for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
The people familiar with Small's candidacy did not know whether Aronow would stay with the agency.
Aronow could not be reached for comment.